The development and rapid spread of the electric telegraph in the mid-nineteenth century were profoundly entangled with music in ways that are seldom if ever acknowledged. Particular emphasis is often placed on sound recording as enacting what Attali describes as “the moment when everything suddenly changed.” In fact, the telegraph anticipated several key premises of recording by decades. Its language is heard, on the one hand, in the direct imitation of Strauss Jr.'s Telegraphische Depeschen, and on the other, in François Sudre's development of a “universal musical language” to communicate across distance. Works by Berlioz and Georges Kastner reveal how the telegraph fed into conceptions of musical transcendence via Spiritualists and the Aeolian harp. The attendant emphasis on mind over body was extended through the employment by conductors of telegraph technology to control musicians across ever-greater distances. This apparent disembodiment of the telegraph carried threatening implications for those social or ethnic groups aligned with the body, including performers. However, as Marshall McLuhan suggests, electricity was also primarily a “tactile” medium, and sensitivity to the telegraphic signals in art music therefore also entailed a new appreciation of the powerful role of embodied performers. Listening for the sounds of the telegraph in music of the mid-nineteenth century thus both enriches our appreciation of the historicity of these works and offers new perspectives on the negotiations between embodiment and transcendence that continue to underpin this repertoire.
Relatively early in the composition of Les Troyens Berlioz declared his intention to include a " pas d'alméées with the music and dancing exactly like the Bayadèères' ballet which I saw here sixteen or seventeen years ago." Despite Berlioz's claim that he had "gone into it" and "there is no anachronism," historical evidence would suggest that the presence of Indian dancing girls in Dido's Carthage is actually highly inauthentic and anachronistic. Indeed, Berlioz's immediate inspiration for the ballet in question was not ancient history but, rather, a group of Indian dancers and musicians who had visited Paris in 1838. An investigation of the context of the bayadèères' performances and the reception of the dancers and their music reveals that issues of authenticity and anachronism were a constant preoccupation for their French audiences, most of whom had previously encountered bayadèères only through the exoticizing lens of Western representations. Berlioz's own references to the bayadèères are examined in relation to contemporary reviews and the text of a highly self-reflexive play that was performed as a prologue and that shaped audiences' responses to the bayadèères' performances at the Thééââtre des Variéétéés in Paris. Although Berlioz is generally thought to have abandoned his intention to embody the 1838 bayadèères in Les Troyens, I argue that he actually retained aspects of his original Indian inspiration in the act IV ballet; moreover, an awareness of the impact of the bayadèères' performances on Berlioz and his contemporaries greatly informs our appreciation of the contribution of the act IV ballet to the wider imperial subtext of Les Troyens . If, rather than simply dismissing anachronism, we are willing to embrace it as a concept fundamental to Berlioz's opera, the act IV ballet——often cut in recent productions——can be newly appreciated as occupying a significant role in the historical dialectic of Les Troyens as a whole.